Naramalli Sivaprasad, 66, is a Telugu Desam Party MP from Chittoor. He is also an actor, a director, a professor and a doctor. But that is not why he has been drawing attention in Parliament for the past month. He has had photographers flocking to him each day as he slips into various roles — from being draped in a sari as a Telugu woman to a schoolboy in shorts, from wearing his hair in a ponytail to play Narada, to wielding the flute as Lord Krishna, and from a priest in a robe to a maulvi in a skull cap – all to protest the denial of special status to Andhra Pradesh.
At 10.30 am Tuesday, dressed in an off-white lungi and a shirt, Sivaprasad was a weaver, piles of coloured thread slung across one shoulder, a cutout of the charkha in his other hand. As he walked the complex, he knew his act had done the trick once again as journalists and cameramen raced to capture him first. He looked equally at ease with interviews he gave in English, Hindi and Telugu, interspersing his sentences with “OK ma’am, please sir, thank you ma’am.”
A group of AIADMK MPs gathered to demand a Cauvery management board; very few cameras moved away from Sivaprasad.
“I am an artiste and wanted to find a creative way to express the concerns of the people of my state. Costumes impress more, have better effect… Prime Minister Modi has done nothing for weavers and GST has crippled them. These threads can make cloth but it can also strangle those in power,” he said, pointing to the pile on his shoulder.
He noted that of all his characters so far, the Telugu woman got the highest response and was also his favourite. “My missus got me the sari and wig and helped me with the makeup. Somebody in my relation stitched the blouse. My wife, two daughters and sons-in-law help me with all the costumes and prods,” said the two-time MP, who gets his material from Tirupati, where he hails from. “I go to Tirupati on days when Parliament is not in session,” he said. His daughters, 35 and 40, are both doctors in Tirupati.
Sivaprasad said he was “most nervous” that day. “I did not want to dress up as a woman and be laughed at. I wanted to look like a lady. It was excellent… The media people encouraged me.”
For sources of inspiration for his looks, he has many. “I read, I talk to writers, historians… There are two Sanskrit professors in Tirupati whom I consult on most occasions. Then, there are residents of the state who call me all the time to give suggestions. They want me to don the look of Venkateswara Swamy, of Bhagat Singh… But I won’t become Bhagat Singh, I want to represent people from my state,” said Sivaprasad, now in the TDP chambers after adjournment of the House, the threads still slung across his shoulder.
Settling down to tea and toast, he described CM Chandrababu Naidu among his “good friends”. “I have been doing theatre since childhood. In high school, Chandrababu and I were in a play together. I enrolled into medical school in Tirupati and later taught there as well.”
At medical college, he met Ralavijaylakshmi, before going on to a “sensational marrige”. “She hailed from the upper-most Reddy caste and I am an SC. So you can imagine what would have transpired then,” he said, he eyes wide. “Today she is a leading gynaecologist and we have a nursing home in Tirupati. Of course, financially her contribution in setting up the place was more.”
As journalists took and tweeted his pictures, he obliged them with more comments on the plight of weavers. “I am not on any social media though,” he clarified.
Of all his protests so far, he said, it is this time that the “English media has been most supportive”. “They are competing with each other to get my pictures and interviews.”
Sometime in the late 1970s, Sivaprasad met director Bharathiraja who cast him in his 1980 Telugu film Kotha Jeevithalu, where he was “almost hero”. “He was looking for actors in my college but gave me the role. Later, I acted in about 40 films in comic and character roles. My 1983 film Khaidi is my favourite. It made Chiranjeevi a huge star,” he said.
Politics happened in the late 1990s, when one day Naidu sent three MLAs to “elope me”. “He insisted and I couldn’t refuse. He made me cultural president of the party and I still hold that post… The party supports me in my protest,” he said. He has been a minister in Naidu’s government earlier.
Over the years, Sivaprasad has often used “costume protests to drive my point across”. In 2013, television beamed visuals of him whipping himself up outside Parliament to protest against statehood for Telangana. “I was suspended too. That time too I had dressed up as 15 characters,” he said. “In 2014, Naidu joked that now that we are with the government, there will not be any opportunity for you to assume different avatars.”
That didn’t stop him. In November 2016, Sivaprasad’s custom-made costume with stickers of people in distress because of demonetisation left Parliament in splits. “I can’t help it. In times of crisis the artiste within me is forced to don these attires to draw people’s attention,” he said.
Sivaprasad, who had dressed up as 16 characters this year until Tuesday, had five more looks planned before the end of the Parliament session. “There is lot of confusion. I have done semi-Narada once but now I want to do the full get-up. I have been in talks with a cinema writer to get the material for it. I also want to perform Burra Katha [an oral storytelling technique]. It is going to be very ferocious. I have to begin writing the songs for it.”
As for his final look, he has that one planned out. “I will dress up as Vishvamitra. I want to curse this government.”